Bugging Out vs Bugging In: Which One Is More Realistic When SHTF?

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By Bryan Lynch •  8 min read

One topic that is extensively covered in the prepping and survival community is bugging out vs bugging in. First, let me briefly define these two terms. 

Bugging Out

Bugging Out Vs. Bugging In

This is a term that was taken from the military. When there is a likely chance of an enemy force overtaking a base or compound, the call goes out to “bug out.” When this happens, personnel grab their essentials so that they can leave the area and survive for a short period before receiving resupply or reinforcements. 

In the civilian world, it is used similarly. When a dangerous threat enters the area in which a person lives it may force them to leave their home. They grab the supplies they can and leave or “bug out.” 

Bugging In 

Bugging in is the opposite of bugging out and many people use the term “shelter in place,” which means the same thing. 

Simply put, a dangerous event happens that requires a person to bug in or shelter in place for their safety. 

A Quick Example

To better visualize bugging in vs bugging out, here is an example. 

A raging wildfire is racing towards a person’s home. For their safety, they must leave the area rather than stay. The fire would cause the person to bug out.

A biohazard, such as a pandemic, could make it dangerous to travel or even step outside of your home. This risk to person’s safety would cause them to bug in. 

Bugging Out vs Bugging In

Some people have extensive plans for bugging in, bugging out, or a mixture of the two. 

The choice of staying or leaving is entirely up to the type of emergency at hand and a person’s particular situation. 

For instance, it may not be an option for someone to bug out if they have a sick and immobile loved one at home. Due to outside forces, it may be safer for the person to leave but their situation may dictate that they stay, ride out the storm, and do the best they can. 

Because a person never knows what is going to be thrown at them, it makes sense plan for both bugging in and bugging out. 

To do that I am going to break down each of these into a little more detail.

Check out our article on should you buy a bug out property as well…

My Thoughts About Bugging In

Bugging in can happen anywhere at any time.

Have you ever been ready to leave work and a bad storm rolls through? Usually, when this happens it is recommended by the employer that employees do not leave and seek shelter within.

This is a short term example of bugging in.

Typically, a person will be doing this at home, which is generally the safest place they can because it is the most comfortable, they are the most familiar with it, and it has the most supplies. 

Knowing exactly what kind of supplies you should have when bugging in can be tricky. This is because you never know what will cause you to shelter in place and for how long. 

Scenarios range from a bad storm that could keep you in one place for just a few hours to possibly days, to further reaching events that could last weeks, months, or even years. 

No matter what causes you to bug in there are some common items that everyone should have that would allow a person to bug in for as long as possible. They are:

Having items in the above categories will be critical to survival. I have often thought of bugging in as thinking of myself as the last person on Earth. 

This is because bugging in requires a person to be entirely self-reliant. You will most likely not be able to run to the grocery store to pick up a few extra items or run to the doctor should you cut your finger or call a repairman if something breaks. 

When the time comes for bugging in, the only person responsible for you and your family’s well being is you.



My Thoughts On Bugging Out 

I would venture a guess in that bugging out is the last resort option for most preppers. 

This is because people rely on a certain amount of supplies to survive and those supplies would have to be transported using a vehicle or being carried. 

But as this relates to preppers, most have a bug out location.

These are secondary locations similar to their homes in that they provide shelter and are usually stocked with survival supplies. 

But getting to that location safely and efficiently can be problematic. 

Roads may be shut down due to civil unrest, accidents, or natural disasters. A bug out location that would normally take a few hours to get to could take days or longer during a large scale event. 

But some preppers do not have a specific bug out location in mind should they be forced to leave. 

Instead, individuals like this tend to have more of a survivalist, live off of the land mentality. This nomadic option can be a good choice as it allows for easy and quick traveling due to a minimalistic living style. 

The main downside to this is that not many people can fully live off the land for long periods nor can they do so in areas outside of their normal region of operation. 

Bugging out has its positives and negatives. Here are the pros and cons as I see them. 



Recommendations on Bugging Out vs Bugging In 


Whether you have to bug in or out, here are some tips for making the experience a little bit easier or more comfortable. 

Prepare as much as possible beforehand for an emergency. Once something happens you can no longer prepare for it but instead must react to it.

Even if your main plan is to bug in with no thoughts of ever leaving your current location, you should still make a plan for leaving. There could come a time when you have no option and are forced to leave. If this happens it is better to have an idea of what to do rather than running around trying to figure out what the next step is. 

When bugging in, always keep adding to your supplies. Do not stop supplementing supplies because you heard some random timeframe people should be prepared for. Do you have three days of food stored away? If you do, then great! Now, make it a week’s worth. Then two weeks, three weeks, etc. The same goes for the rest of your supplies.

When bugging out, do not depend on a single escape route. Plan on many. 

Have a properly loaded pack that you can carry for long distances in case a vehicle needs to be left behind. 

Have your health in check and be in the best possible shape that you can be in.

Wrapping It Up

It can be difficult deciding on whether you should bug in or bug out

Neither option is entirely the best, and both have their positives and negatives. 

The best that you can do is hope for the best, plan for the worst and keep working through the hardships that come your way. Thanks for reading and stay prepared!

When it comes to bugging in or out, do you think one is better than the other? Let us know what you think about this topic by sounding off in the comment section below!

Bryan Lynch

Bryan grew up in the Midwest and spent every waking moment outdoors. Learning how to hunt, fish, read the land, and be self-reliant was part of everyday life. Eventually, he combined his passions for the outdoors, emergency preparedness, and writing. His goal was to spread positive information about this field. In 2019, Bryan authored the book Swiss Army Knife Camping and Outdoor Survival Guide. His second book, Paracord Projects For Camping and Outdoor Survival, is scheduled to be released on March 2, 2021.